Updated on 05.21.15

Choosing a College Major? Check the Stats First

student thinking

If you’re on the verge of choosing a college major, there are a number of factors you should consider. Not only do you need to think about what inspires you, what you’re good at, and how long it will take to earn a particular degree, but you’ll also want to think long and hard about what kind of career you might ultimately wind up in.

Your college years may be fleeting, but your career could last the next 20, 30, or even 40 years. It would be shame to graduate with a degree that doesn’t lend itself to a career that fits your lifestyle — or worse, to any career at all.

The truth is, some industries are slowly dying, and are actually expected to lose workers during the next decade. If you graduate into one of those fields, you might be hard-pressed to find any job in your desired industry – and simply staying employed could become an uphill battle for years as the industry continues to shed jobs.

Meanwhile, certain fields are practically exploding with opportunity at this very minute, with exceptional job prospects predicted for years to come. If you were able to know this ahead of time and choose a career with exceptional growth, you could enjoy a lifetime of job security and wealth.

Fortunately, you have the ability to check the stats before you choose a college major. By analyzing government data, you can figure out what kind of job prospects you should expect based on your desired industry and geographic location.

How to Use Government Data to Choose a College Major

A handful of government websites make it easy to search for various data that could help you decide on a college major, and ultimately, your future career. As you figure out which path to take, check out the following government websites.

Check Job Stats at the Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers a wealth of information on almost any career you can think of in nearly any field, with everything from national wage statistics to data broken down by metropolitan areas and big cities.

Using BLS.gov and its Occupational Outlook Handbook, you can search for jobs and explore the educational requirements for each one, along with the projected career growth for individual careers on a national scale. Meanwhile, BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates break things down further by wage and employment data within individual states, metropolitan areas, and industries.

Explore Hot Jobs on CareerOneStop.com

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, CareerOneStop.com offers a wealth of information on the fastest-growing jobs based on your level of education and state. With its easy-to-use search engine, you can see what kind of growth is predicted in your field during the next decade along with the annual mean wage for your chosen career.

If you haven’t chosen a college major yet, CareerOneStop.com also provides you with an opportunity to browse the hottest jobs in your state or region. Meanwhile, you can also use the site for information on career training, resume building, and general salary and employment data.

Explore Colleges on the National Center for Education Statistics Website

The National Center for Education Statistics, which can be found at NCES.ED.gov, offers up a wide range of data on everything from elementary education outcomes to government commissioned studies on gender differences in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math).

However, my favorite tool on the site is the College Navigator. Using the College Navigator, you can search and compare various degree programs based on school size, tuition preferences, degrees offered, and other criteria.

Start by searching for colleges and universities in your state then click on each school for detailed information on popular degree programs and graduation rates. You can also break down your search by degree program and only compare schools that offer programs in your desired discipline.

This can help your school search in one of two ways: First, you can find out which schools in your area offer various programs you’re considering. And second, you can compare individual school stats to see which option might work best for you in terms of school size, program size, and tuition.

When all is said and done, the college major and school you choose will make a difference in your life. Whether that difference is good or bad will be based on the choice you make and the way you ultimately choose to pursue it.

That’s why it’s crucial to know what you’re getting into before you dive in too deep. Arm yourself with as much information you can before you choose your college major, and along with it, your future. And as always, make sure any decision you make is an informed one. To get you started, check out these 10 degrees that could pay off and the 10 worst degrees for job prospects.

Did you check out the stats before you chose your college major? If you had, would you have chosen differently?

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